Alex Ovechkin hasn’t been a major offensive factor for the Washington Capitals yet this season, but they are still hoping his absence will be a short one.
Washington hosts the Nashville Predators for the first time in nearly three years on Tuesday night, one day after the NHL’s reigning MVP left the team.
Ovechkin will miss Tuesday’s game after he returned to Russia on Monday to be with his ailing grandfather. Ovechkin has two goals and three assists in eight games, although he has been held without a goal in Washington’s last six. The Capitals said they are unsure when he’ll return.
“We know he won’t be here tomorrow,” team spokesman Nate Ewell said Monday. “But we don’t know beyond that.”
In his previous three NHL seasons with Washington (4-3-1) Ovechkin missed only one game, which came during his 2005-06 rookie season. His absence will end a streak of 203 consecutive games played.
“He had to go and he wanted to be near (his grandfather), but if you know Alex, he doesn’t want to leave his teammates,” Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. “So that’s always a struggle, but in the end, he knows what he needs to do - and that’s family first.”
While Ovechkin has struggled to find the net this season, his teammate Alexander Semin has not. Semin scored the game winner 2:17 into overtime Saturday in Washington’s 6-5 victory over Dallas, snapping a three-game winless streak.
Semin, who also had two assists, leads the Capitals with seven goals and 14 points. Countryman Sergei Fedorov had two goals in Saturday’s win, giving him 475 for his career - a new NHL record for goals scored by a Russian-born player.
“Records are nice on a personal level,” Fedorov said, “but most important was that we finally won a game.”
Washington, which leads the Southeast Division with 28 goals scored, had been limited to one in each of its previous two losses. The Capitals also received two goals from Tomas Fleischmann and another from Tyler Sloan on Saturday.
“We’ve always been resilient,” Boudreau said. “You can see the passion we have by how we reacted when we scored the overtime goal.”
Boudreau’s team returns from a three-game road trip to host Nashville (4-4-0) for the first time since Dec. 7, 2005, when the Predators won 5-2. The clubs met in Nashville on March 18 last season - a 4-2 victory for the Capitals.
The Predators come in struggling defensively, having allowed 23 goals in their last five games. They managed to beat the Kings 5-4 on Saturday despite nearly squandering a three-goal lead.
Nashville took a 5-2 advantage following Jordin Tootoo’s goal at 12:43 of the third period, but surrendered a pair of Los Angeles goals in the final 5:17.
“It should have ended 5-2 and our guys all realize that,” Predators coach Barry Trotz said. “We found a way to stop the tide, but it was closer than we wanted it to be.”
Ryan Jones, J.P. Dumont, Martin Erat and Jerred Smithson also scored for the Predators. Goaltender Dan Ellis allowed four goals for the second straight start while facing a season-high 30 shots. Ellis is 4-4-0 with a 3.35 goals-against average, but Trotz doesn’t lay the blame solely on him.
“There are a number of players who can do a better job,” Trotz said. “And they are veteran players making mistakes. That is what concerns me.”
Nashville is 1-3-0 on the road this season, with the only victory coming in a shootout at Chicago on Oct. 13.